Battle of the Bees

Patriot Militia Sting British Foragers

Location


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Coordinates: 35.3124, -80.8641.

Type: Stop
Tour: Race to the Dan
County: Mecklenburg

Access LogoDifficult

You can see the general location of the farm buildings where this skirmish took place from the parking lot of the McIntyre Farm Historic Park, or you can explore further on foot. The trails are relatively flat and solid, but some people with mobility issues might find them difficult.

Girl in a white tee shirt with a picture and list of patriot women

 
Mug saying, "Do Whig Out!" on a parchment scroll

 

Description

Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis’ British army occupied Charlotte in September of 1780 to gather supplies from the surrounding area. However, local Patriot (“Whig”) militia keep harassing the foraging parties. So when 40 empty baggage wagons were sent to a mill on Hopewell Creek on Tuesday, October 3, Cornwallis ordered a 450-man Loyalist force under Capt. John Doyle to protect it. The Tories also planned to plunder farms on the way. They marched north from the British camp in what today is uptown Charlotte, up the road that leads to Beatties’ Ford on the Catawba River.

A local boy saw them coming and rode to farms along the road to warn them, including the McIntyre Farm here. He then went on to notify Capt. Jack Thompson of the local militia (though one source says Thompson was already shadowing the Tories). Thompson lived at what became the site of the Latta Plantation later.

The Tories arrived up the road. Doyle left a detachment with some of the wagons here and continued north with most of the force. The men here tied their horses to the farm’s wagons. They began emptying McIntyre’s barn of oats, stealing pigs, ducks, and chickens, and rummaging through the house.

Thompson and 13 men snuck past them along the branch (small stream) at the bottom of the hill and then up to the top of the ridge at the back of today’s park, “60 or 70 steps” away.[1] It had some large rocks scattered along it at that time, which together with the trees provided cover. They spread out with at least 10 feet between them, probably to make themselves seem like a larger force.

Photo of a small clearing with trees
Possible location of home or barn (AmRevNC photograph)

In the process, one of the Tories knocked over one or more of the farm’s beehives while trying to steal them. The Tories came under attack from the bees, prompting laughter from an officer as the men scattered.

Thompson took advantage of the distraction to fire at and drop a sentinel near them, which caused the rest of his men to fire a volley. One apparent officer fell—militia did not wear uniforms, so it is hard to tell—and some of the Loyalists ran for their horses. A few began to return fire. Thompson and one other man, at least, fired again, and the Patriots then withdrew.[2]

Doyle heard the firing from a half-mile down the road and feared he was under attack from a larger Patriot force. He ordered a retreat. Thompson’s unit ambushed them at a creek there. The Tories had brought war dogs, and let them loose. According to one man on the scene, “‘The dogs came on the trail of these retreating men, and the leading one sprung upon the heels of a man who had just discharged his rifle. A pistol shot laid him dead, and the other dogs, coming up to him, paused, gave a howl, and returned.’”[3] Some cavalry with Doyle chased Thompson’s men a short distance along both sides of the creek, but the woods made pursuit difficult and they broke off without catching any of the Patriots.

More Patriots farmers arrived in the area and joined the fun. Horses pulling the wagons were killed, which blocked the road and added to the confusion. Once the rest of the force got back here, some of the Tories formed a line of battle as a rear guard. But the Patriots kept to the woods and continued picking away at them. After the wagons finally got through, the rear guard was ordered back.

Photo of road leading toward Charlotte
Route of approach and retreat (AmRevNC photograph)

The Tories retreated headlong to Charlotte with the farmers harassing them the whole way, a scene reminiscent of the British retreat from Lexington and Concord (Mass.) in 1775. No Patriots were injured, while eight Tories were killed and two wounded. More importantly, they returned with mostly empty wagons.[4]

What to See

The exact locations of the farm buildings are unknown. If you take the loop trail from the right side of the parking lot, stop where the trail starts to curve left away from Beattie’s Ford Road. Look left. The flat area is a good candidate for the site of the farmhouse or barn. Notice the large trees in a rough, wide circle: Though not old enough to have been here during the battle, they suggest a structure of some sort was on that spot a long time ago.

Photo of a wide trail curving into woods
Approach to possible home/barn site (AmRevNC photograph)

Continue around the trail and notice the drop-off into the woods. This is likely where the Patriots stationed themselves.

A monument to the battle is next to Beattie’s Ford Road.[5]


[1] Graham, William A. (William Alexander), General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards & Broughton, 1904) <http://archive.org/details/cu31924032738233> [accessed 27 March 2020]

[2] Ibid.

[3] Lewis, J.D., ‘Battle of the Bees’, The American Revolution in North Carolina, 2014 <https://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_battle_of_the_bees.html> [accessed 24 December 2019].

[4] David Norris and Daniel Barefoot, ‘Charlotte, Battle Of’, NCpedia, 2006 <https://www.ncpedia.org/charlotte-battle> [accessed 23 December 2019]; Dan L. Morrill, ‘Independence and Revolution’, A History Of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County <http://www.cmhpf.org/morrill%20book/CH2.htm> [accessed 23 December 2019].

[5] In addition to the other footnoted sources, “Stop” information comes from one of two guidebooks; NCpedia; the online essay for the relevant North Carolina Highway Marker; and related Sight pages (see “About Sources“).

George Locke | Race to the Dan Tour | Ramsour’s Mill